What is hope and what is Zionism?  What does it mean to carry a yearning of 2000 years and finally, to be able to walk on the streets of united Jerusalem?  Barbara Goldstein, the Deputy Director of the Hadassah, the  Women''s Zionist  Organization of America , and who also serves as a Member of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael Board of Directors , has a very inspiring and unique personal story; a story that carried her through her life into the Land of Israel, building Jewish life just like the early pioneers.

Author Samuel Willner with Barbara Goldstein
Photo: Samuel Willner

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Barbara Goldstein is an energetic lady, whose personality is full of enthusiasm for Zionism.  She is passionate about her work for the Zionist organization Hadassah, and this path has guided her through her life, and eventually took her to the Promised Land when she made an aliyah fifteen years ago.  I met Barbara Goldstein at the Inbal Hotel which is one of Jerusalem''s most prestigious hotels.  What is it in one’s life that makes us the way we are?  I asked this question and many more, and found out that there was actually a very special story, which starts with Barbara''s words: “I am the way I am because people along the way took me under their wings and brought me to where I am now.” This is her story and it begins in the time when she was a small child in New Jersey, the United States.



“In the Yeshiva when I was a little girl the Rabbi used to come to the yeshiva every week with questions.  He would always have candies for those who answered right.  However that one time he did not have candy, but he said he had something else, more meaningful, and then he took a stone from out of his pocket, a stone that had once been a part of the Western Wall of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  While giving me the stone he said: ''Remember that one day you will have to bring it back to Jerusalem because if everybody would bring stones with them from the Kotel what would be left of it'',” recalls Barbara. “I carried that stone that I got from the Rosh Yeshiva from the time I was eight years old until the Six Day War”.  This small piece of stone was a reminder that there once was a Holy Temple in Jerusalem. 

“Before 1967 when Jerusalem was not united, we used to stay at where the Mamilla Hotel is nowadays. It was when there still was a wall dividing Jerusalem.  My husband would say: ''Someday we will get it back''. We had no idea what was there.  I knew it was so close but yet so far. “

The Six Day war in 1967 changed it all.  Jerusalem was finally united.  “We came here to Israel right after the Six Day War.  Before the war I had not told anyone about the stone, but as I told the story to my family they wanted to walk with me to the Western Wall.  I put the stone there, as once the ancient builders had done. There was a purpose in my life for all this.”

“The State of Israel is the greatest gift to Jewish people in 2000 years.  Titus, the Emperor of Rome once said that Jews would never live here, and look where Titus is, and look where we are now.  That speaks to me,” says Barbara Goldstein.

Born to live in Israel: “The first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion once spoke to a group in Sde Boker, and I was with them.  He told us a story and said: ‘You need to become like a Catholic family’.  Back then I did not know what a Catholic family was, and I asked what that was all about.  Ben-Gurion responded: ‘in a Catholic family they always want one child, a boy, who will become a priest or a girl who will become a nun’.  And I guess I still did not get it.  Then he explained: “Every Jewish family in America should feel obligated that at least one of their children comes to live in Eretz Israel”.   This is because one person moving to Israel would be followed by families visiting them.

“I hated packing and leaving every time I visited Israel.  I had many significant positions in Hadassah.   During that time Hadassah did not have offices in Israel.  When they established an office in Israel they needed an American who understood both sides of the ocean.  I chose to move to Israel.”

Leaving one''s home is not always easy and simple.  “I was blessed to leave my birthplace, my country of origin and to come to Israel.  I knew that this was the journey and destination where I had to be.  I did not have to do what Abraham did when he left his home for the Promised Land; to knock down the old idols.  I knew I was a traveler and believed I would ultimately be in Israel," says Barbara Goldstein, who is also known as BG.

From Vision to Action:   Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization came into being when women did not have right to vote in America.  “Henrietta Szold, who was the founder of Hadassah in 1912, had a twofold belief, to help the people of Palestine by creating a medical infrastructure in Israel.  At the same time, she believed that there had to be created American Jewish women who were literate in Judaism. That part has been my life’s mantra. My life’s work,” says Barbara Goldstein.  Following her dedicated work for Hadassah, she was asked about two years ago to light a torch on Yom Ha’atzmaut, the Israeli Independence Day, at Har Herzl in Jerusalem, in honor of Hadassah''s Centennial.  

Hadassah has long being involved in the work of KKL-JNF.  “Already in the early years, Hadassah decided to take on the Jewish National Fund as one of its projects and to this day, Hadassah is one of its largest organizational givers.  The whole redemption of the land was the responsibility of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael.  You cannot be a Zionist without being a part of it.  Working for KKL-JNF is love for Zionism, it is redemption of the land.”

Reality vs. Wisdom:  The reality of living in Israel is complicated.  “When you get to be 65 years old you should get a sense of maturity, but it is still a young country.   It moves so fast, absorbing so many people. Yet no other country with such a small area has ever done that.”  

“We want everybody to keep their identity.  We have to educate Jews to love Israel.  That is an important part of education.  People need to feel the connection to the land because too many leave Israel,” emphasizes Barbara Goldstein.  

“What is security?  Israel is yours even when you live in the Diaspora.  Peoplehood is the most important, not just religion.  There are certain issues that, when you live abroad, you don’t have the right to decide, such as, what security is.  You have to defend the democratically elected government. That is the role of the diaspora. It doesn’t mean being silent on issues from the Rabbinate to falafel! But on borders- that’s for the citizens of Israel to decide”. 

“I am always filled with optimism.  I relate to Jeremiah, the prophet.  They never liked him, they never liked what he said.  There is always hope: To be a Jew is to be an optimist.   The prophets prayed for the return of the Jews to Jerusalem, even while they knew that they would never touch those stones."

“Do you know that they say in the Pirkei Avot [Chapters of the Fathers]: ''The task is not for us to finish, but we are not free to stand away from it''.  That is a reality.  I never did anything so great, yet I can touch the stones of Jerusalem.  It means that I have to take responsibility.   My calling is to serve the Jewish people.” 

Read more about joint KKL-JNF and Hadassah Activities

An Environmental Garden of Healing at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital

Celebrating Hadassah’s Centenary and KKL-JNF’s 110th Anniversary


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